Much of our work involves children and families. From Smokey Bear to fishing experiences, from fire safe games to coloring books - we love finding new ways to introduce our youth to the wonder that is the National Forest! Creating new appreciation for the wildlands, wildlife and natural resources, and, hopefully, developing their concern about preventing wildfires are some of our most rewarding activities.
The forest is a dynamic, complex system of soil, water, plants and animals; everyone must respect and help care for it. People are drawn to their National Forests for a wide variety of reasons. Some seek recreational activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, boating and mountain biking. Others come to study nature, or simply to enjoy the solitude. Still others migrate to the forest as permanent residents. As coastal and inland valley cities grow, many people wish to live in smaller communities surrounded by forest. As a result, more people are living adjacent to forests, grasslands, and chaparral than ever before. And here, at the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), problems begin to arise.
Many of these forest residents do not realize that wildlands in Southern California have evolved with fire as a major part of the ecosystem. These forests, grasslands and chaparral are designed to burn.
Mountain and desert communities, as well as major cities, are in danger should fires spread from the Forest. On the other hand, fire can spread from a structure into the forest. Forest and W UI residents must become aware of their responsibility in maintaining their property in a fire-safe condition.
The Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), where forest and desert meet population centers, is the most critical area in preventing wildland fires. Consequently, it is here that the need to educate the pubic about all phases of wildland fires is the greatest. There are three primary reasons for this.
First, many of the people in these WUI communities believe that as long as they can reach the fire department on their cell phones they are protected. They also feel that fire suppression agencies have an obligation to protect their homes. This erroneous public perception must be corrected. Otherwise, resources vital to managing fire within the forest will continue to be diverted to protect structures.
Second, aggressive fire suppression over the years has created high fuel levels in the forest. Consequently, wildland fires can be enormously destructive both to the forest and to people’s homes. To reduce the fuel build-up, the Forest Service is introducing prescribed burning back into the ecosystem. Although widely accepted by scientists, fuels reduction through prescribed burning has many detractors. Residents of WUI areas dislike having their lives disrupted by the smoke and ash. Moreover, they fear the loss of property if the fire is not contained. The public needs to be made aware of the benefits of prescribed burning.
Third, volunteers introduce a fresh perspective to the task of designing and interpreting educational programs. Although the well-established Smokey Bear materials for children certainly make an impact, adult audiences require a more mature approach. Volunteers, with their wide range of backgrounds and skills, bring a new way of looking at the Wildfire Education message, a unique enthusiasm for it, and a new spirit for getting it across to the public.
The Wildfire Prevention Program was created to fulfill these three needs. The Program will help make the public aware of the role of fire and fuels management, such as prescribed burning, in preventing destructive wildland fires and in maintaining a healthy forest that will be here for future generations to enjoy. This message is especially important since the reintroduction of fire into the ecosystem which, after many years of vigorous suppression of all fire, may be viewed by the public as dangerous. The Program also will help educate the public about their responsibility in caring for this very valuable resource by making them aware that the public lands, including the National Forests, truly belong to the public.